Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is the power trip inevitable?

It is easy to spot someone on a power trip.

But is this a natural inevitability, a by-product, of people with authority?

Unfortunately, the research says "yes."

The power trip is alive and well...in all of us. We are after all, human. And with power, people can exhibit power trip behaviors.

In an article by Jonah Lehrer for the Wall Street Journal, he says
"Contrary to the Machiavellian cliché, nice people are more likely to rise to power. Then something strange happens: Authority atrophies the very talents that got them there."

It does in fact pose a paradox.

Lehrer goes on to say that "According to psychologists, one of the main problems with authority is that it makes us less sympathetic to the concerns and emotions of others. For instance, several studies have found that people in positions of authority are more likely to rely on stereotypes and generalizations when judging other people. They also spend much less time making eye contact, at least when a person without power is talking."

I guess this is why we have so many un-empathetic bosses that think they are too important to bother with the minions. But do you have to be a jerk if you are in power?

I don't think so.

However, I know that it takes hard work to overcome some of these natural tendencies. Take it from a nice person who has been on a few power trips in her day. I am a living testament to this study.

I remember one time when I was on one of my power trips. I had been travelling incessantly and my itinerary got messed up and when they finally put me on the right flight, I didn't get upgraded. I was furious. I was furious at everyone and anyone. I remember being rude to the airline folks (I mean how could they not upgrade me? Didn't they know I travelled every week with their airline?) and then getting on the phone and giving my assistant a piece of my mind. Looking back, I remember my internal dialogue sounding a bit like "How dare they? Don't they know how busy I am? Don't they know who they are dealing with?" My ego was bruised.

I believe that power has a way of engaging our egos and making us create an illusion of superiority that comes with authority. This is why humility is one of the most powerful attributes that leaders need to nourish.

A humble leader stays connected and empathetic. A humble leader is never "above" the standards set for the masses. A humble leader can get the back seat of a flight (by the bathroom) and feel grateful to be there. Humble leaders project power but aren't on a power trip.

There is a fundamental difference of projecting power and being overtaken by power. Projecting power is critical to achieve a degree of confidence by those following you, but being humble and keeping your ego in check is critical for long term success as a leader.

So how do you know when you're on a power trip and have lost touch with humility?

1. You believe you are entitled to certain standards and/or perks.
2. You hear your internal voice say things like "don't they know who they are dealing with?"
3. You don't meet with just anybody: you consider status first before ideas.
4. You get upset easily.
5. You constantly measure yourself against others.

If you can relate to any of these you may be on a power trip. Don't fret, you're not alone. But you can do something about it to become a better leader. Take these important steps to bring you back to humility:

Reconnect with the "niceness" that got you into that position of authority in the first place
Watch your judgments of others
Accept your own faults and admit blame
Be curious about people and ideas, regardless of status
Get in touch with the reality of the masses
Say no to the power trip and don't let your ego derail you.

Remember to lead effectively, you don't have to be a jerk. In fact, succumbing to the power trip will not only diminish your impact, it will rob you of long term success.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is your organization prepared to handle conflict?

I am always surprised to hear that people believe that being nice and leading are mutually exclusive.

Studies show that nice people do in fact finish first. According to Jonah Lehrer, nice people are more likely to rise to power.

However in a recent Harvard Business Review article, "Is your culture too nice?" they state that conflict avoidance is a common issue in corporate cultures. The author of the article, Ron Ashkenas states "most people want to be liked and unconsciously fear that arguments, disagreements, or negative messages will create tension with people they interact with on a day-to-day basis. Compounded with the environmental pressure to respect authority and the organizational stress on teamwork, this creates a great deal of anxiety around stirring up trouble"

Perhaps this is true for some people, but what ever happened to "the truth shall set you free?" I have always been one of those people that want to say the truth straight and directly to others and in turn, I want to be told the truth directly. In fact when others avoid telling me things straight, I grow to mistrust them. But I do understand that not everyone is like me. Others may want the truth in a less-direct manner.

As a certified Birkman consultant who works with teams and individuals, the component that measures this is named "Esteem." Esteem is the way in which we relate to individuals. It measures how a person may deal with, or prefers others to deal with, approval-related topics. Conversations that create conflict are certainly approval-related. If you are a high esteem person, you are likely to respect titles and status symbols, initiate feedback by suggestion and are more careful and diplomatic in relationships. The focus is more on the person vs. the issue. A low esteem person is frank and forthright and focuses more on the issue at hand vs. the person.

I believe that Ron Ashkenas is describing a culture filled with people who have a high esteem need. And he is correct, the dominant social pattern of the Esteem score is a low esteem usual behavior, but a higher need. What this means is that most people will show up in a matter of fact, candid and non evasive fashion, but they need their environment and others around them to be respectful of their feelings and to have criticism balanced with genuine praise.

Whether you are low or high esteem, I believe that people want to be told the truth and avoiding conflict at all costs is a dangerous situation for most organizations. The bottom line is that organizations are filled with leaders and followers that are different on this component. Leaders need to be trained on how to have those hard conversations that can set someone free to do the right thing and course-correct.

Some tips that I offer:

1. If you are someone who likes to be dealt with in a matter of fact way, recognize that those around you may need a softer approach. Practice giving feedback that blends genuine praise with constructive criticism.

2. If you are someone who likes to be dealt with in a way that respects your individuality and shows respect, recognize that those around you may need a more direct, matter-of-fact approach to understand how to course-correct.

3. Let's drop the word nice altogether. Being nice is simply a form of respect and kindness. Both high and low esteem people can show respect for others in the face of conflict if they better understand their audience. My belief is that the question should not be "Is your culture too nice?" but rather "Is your culture prepared to handle conflict?"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is Fear Driving You?

We are still in the midst of difficulty. Double dip recession?

And with it, comes fear.

The kind of fear that roots you in your spot and if you move, you move slowly with apprehension and uncertainty.

It is the kind of fear that takes over your confidence, your clear sense of thinking and determination. It is as if someone else is driving your ship and you have no idea where you are going. Seth Godin refers to this kind of fear as "the lizard brain."

Most of us would agree that fear is a terrible thing, but we often only acknowledge it with the things that threaten our physical lives; such as fear of flying, fear of speed, fear of heights, etc. And yet, its ever-presence in our everyday lives is often masked as something else; such as hesitation, prudence, lack of confidence, or uncertainty. However, the underlying emotion behind each of these is fear.

Fear has a firm grip. Fear can keep us in unhappy relationships, the wrong jobs, or even worst yet; fear can keep us from living both at work and at home.

Ironically, fear is not about self-preservation but rather self-destruction. Its impact is often detrimental to our personal and professional growth. So, it should come of little surprise that people who achieve success in life know how to overcome fear's grasp in order to capture opportunity.

Warren Buffet says it best: "be greedy only when others are fearful."

What he means by this is that you have the opportunity to win and to rise above the rest when fear is in the air. In difficult times, the majority is not likely to take action. It is counter intuitive, but when times are tough, it is most effective to dive in rather than pull back.

The best antidote for fear is action.

Think about the small steps you have made when you have been stuck in fear and how empowering it is when you have overcome it. All it takes is small steps. Each step builds on the success of the prior one, and after a series of steps, the fear is abated. Fear usually paints a very realistic, yet terrible picture of the unknown in our minds, but taking small steps helps us recognize that this picture is often an illusion.

Your fear may be drawing pictures in your mind like this:

I will never find a job to support myself or my family
I will never get promoted in this company
I will never get back on my feet if I lose my job
I will never make it on my own
I will lose my home
I will starve
I won't ever be loved by anyone else again
I will never earn any money again
I don't have any skills
I don't think there is anything right for me

The more you can challenge yourself to confront the unknown to see how these pictures are in fact illusions, the better you will become at overcoming fear. I believe that you can do this in simple ways every day, so that when you confront the big fears in your life, you are more equipped to handle them.

Here are some every day, fear-busing, confronting-the-unknown ideas to pursue at work at home and everywhere in between:

Dine alone in a public place.
Attend a social event where you don't know anyone.
Travel to a city/country you don't know.
Eat something you never have tried before.
Talk with someone who doesn't speak your language.
Speak to a stranger.
Ask for help from somkeone you don't know.
Do something you never have done before.
Learn something new.
Go first.

Come on, step out, take action and put fear behind you. There is bound to be a great opportunity worth taking.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Are you thinking positively during these negative times?

I learned recently that there is scientific proof for positive thinking and its connection to success.

This is not just some new-agey, fluffy fairy tale.

This learning came to me as I attended The UP Experience's Mini UP session where I saw Shawn Achor from Harvard University speak about "The Science of the Ripple Effect." He has researched the area of human potential and has been working at Harvard University for the past 12 years.

His findings have tremendous application in the workplace today since we all know how difficult it has become (given our current economic crisis) to create positive work environments that generate greater results and profitability. Everywhere we turn it seems like we are in a downward spiral.

But, we all have the ability to alter the course of this spiral.

Apparently, when any event happens to you in life, your brain automatically creates a counter-fact which is usually a hypothetical comparison that helps you judge the experience as good, bad or somewhere in between. Depending upon the counter-fact that you use, you create a positive experience or a negative one. The positive-ness or negative-ness of these experiences has a ripple effect on you, your environment and the people around you.

The reason it ripples to others is because your brain has something inside of it called "mirror neurons". These mirror neurons basically pick up others' emotions as if they were your own. Your brain reacts the same way to a smile from another person as it does to when you are smiling. This is a mirror neuron in action.

This is both good news and bad news.

The good news is that positive-ness can spread and helps you achieve. But, the bad news is that negative-ness also spreads and causes you to stall.

You can start to examine your counter-facts as events happen in your life. When these counter-facts cause you to judge the event as negative, find a more positive counter-fact.

Here is an example; we know that many people, including those close to you or maybe even you, are losing their jobs. A negative counter-fact could be: "That's terrible! I am a step closer to potentially foreclosing on my home, I will never find another job in this economy." A positive counter-fact could be: "That's terrific! What an opportunity to reassess and pursue another direction in my life, since I was never fulfilled in that job anyway."

Learning how to create positive counter-facts is also very helpful if you take a lot of things personally. You have to find a counter-fact that doesn't point to you. I am often amazed to see this in action with my daughter. She is 5 years old and she is a bit reserved and shy, especially around people she doesn't know. She doesn't always respond positively to others' overtures.

And yet, adults often take her responses personally. They have counter-facts that sound like this: "She doesn't like me." "She thinks I am weird, just look at that look she just gave me." It seems absurd. After all, she is a child and has nothing against any of these adults.

And yet, the counter-facts they use to "judge" their experience with my 5-year old reinforce that something is amiss with them.

Some of your counter-facts are just un-examined, programmed reactions. You must be proactive in managing and creating counter-facts that support your success.

Many of you may believe this is a bunch of bunk. In fact, you may think that people who consistently think positively by creating positive counter-facts are out-of-touch with reality and live in some illusionary world.

I must admit, I have been accused of this in my life before. But, I have to tell you, I like my "la la land" and now I know how it contributes to my success and the success of those around me.

Gen Y, who is a product of optimistic boomers, is the one generation who epitomizes positive thinking. In fact, my fellow "Texas Women Speaker who Rocks," Karen McCullough often says "Gen Y is the first generation whose self-esteem is higher than their talent."

I think she is spot-on. I also think this is a good thing. We have a lot to learn from this generation. That's why we are going to have amazing Gen Ys step up like Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, to blow the doors off business as usual.

Highly successful people have an unwavering, positive self-belief that often looks delusional to others.

It is such a simple thing that you can do every day to increase your chances for success.

Reinterpret every event, every step and every "failure" differently. Find a counter-fact that puts it all into a positive light. It doesn't mean that you can't set your bar high. You can. But with every step, and with every misstep, be kind and positive to yourself and to others. Positive momentum builds on itself.

And now we know that it even ripples to others.

I don't know about you, but I sure want some positive news these days. Don't you?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Do you manage to results?

I always thought that I managed to results.

I set the expectations and I allowed people to achieve the results in the best manner that worked for them. I wasn't a clock watcher to see if my team was putting in enough hours. In fact, I was bothered when employees would stay too late or come in during the wee hours just to impress me.

Clocking in too many hours told me that employees were goofing off too much during working hours and were inefficient with their time. I didn't require "face time," I just wanted the results.

But just the other day, this came into question.

Since I now work from my home office, my housecleaners (a pair of sisters) came to my house and were working for just under two hours to clean my entire house. After writing a $120.00 check, I wondered, is this enough time to clean a 3000 square foot house? Suddenly, I found myself comparing them to my previous housekeeper who used to spend six hours doing the job. Their two people for two hours was equivalent to four hours vs. the other at six.

But I kept reminding myself that they got the job done. Was it to the level of cleanliness of my other housekeeper? Yes. Did they do all that was expected? Yes.

So, what was the problem?

Sometimes for a given job, we have expectations regarding the compensation level. That expectation is based on our own experience. As a boomer who used to make $2.35 minimum wage at McDonalds as my first un-skilled job, the fact that a housecleaner could earn $30/hour seems crazy. But times have changed.

The same logic can be applied in todays workforce. You can be managing someone 15years younger and they are making almost as much as you are and suddenly you find yourself expecting them to put in a lot nore hours, but they don't. After all, in your mind, they need to justify that big salary.

But, stop.

How many hours they spend on getting the job done isn't the issue, and yet it seems to be the big debate these days with leading people across generations. It seems like we all have a different definition of success and how to achieve it. As a boomer, putting in sweat equity and showing face time was how we defined it. That certainly is no longer the case today.

But, isn't getting the job done and achieving the result the concern, not how we go about doing it?

Now more than ever, we need to manage to results. There are so many ways to get to a given result and technology has enabled efficiency and effectiveness. It allows people to work smarter, not longer. Managing people virtually and remotely is not uncommon in todays changing workplace.

Set expectations and let people deliver. Managing to results helps you step out so they can step im and achieve the result.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Connection fights obsolescence

Relevance used to be the name of the game.

Today, it is more than just being relevant. You have to have a meaningful connection. Relevance is just the cost of entry, it is no longer the name of the game.

When we don't have any connection with our target or with the people we are leading, we become obsolete.

Today, more than ever, connection is the name of the game. Connection allows for influence.

Isn't that what a leader is all about?